Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh: Start
Upon arriving in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India for the year to volunteer, the question has been where the best place to begin my work is.
I was taken to the outskirts of Ahmedabad to visit a community of leprosy patients that Manav Sadhna (the local NGO graciously hosting me) supports, officially known as the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh, and affectionately known as the Loving Community. It’s a community of approximately 435 residents, 30% of whom have leprosy.
To have leprosy or be associated with it bears a severe social stigma in India, as you are considered "untouchable" and excluded from most facets of society, e.g., it becomes hard to find work because employers don't want to hire you (even if you don't have the disease but have a parent who does) and doctors, sometimes, won't treat you.
Many of the leprosy patients must beg to earn a living, and overall, the community is fairly financially challenged.
After my brief visit there, I thought that it would be a good place to start. I figured
I could create some kind of Jin Shin Jyutsu (a natural healing modality) clinic that could be helpful for mitigating the symptoms associated with the disease.
A few days later, both the founders of Manav Sadhna approached me independently of one another and also recommended I start there, and added that I should live there during the week among the people!
I took some time to design a more concrete sketch of a potential program.
“Uplift the community through the power of collective harmony to foster greater ease, grace, and unexpected goodness. Relieve suffering. Touch hearts. Cultivate optimism.” These were the first words in the outline.
Since it worked well in Rwanda and with Rwanda being my primary reference point, I thought it would be good to offer Jin Shin Jyutsu, a natural form of Japanese medicine, to the leprosy patients. In my experience with it, I have come to see that its effects go deeper than just the physical health benefits it confers. It also creates harmony in life and joy. If I could treat enough people, perhaps the community as a whole, could be benefited in this way.
I was inspired.
More from the proposal: “Being a process-driven program, the focus will not so much be on end results or ‘fixing’ but rather on caring for each person I work with individually.”
If I’m not trying to fix anything, why do this? I wrote an article related to that question here. In short, I feel called to do so. That and this work is personally rewarding and fulfilling to me.
A volunteer at Manav Sadhna had the idea to give every resident of the community a high-quality blanket that could be used to sleep with or sit on while begging. She helped organize an official event for the distribution of these blankets, which also presented a good opportunity to introduce me.
Arriving at the community's social hall late last week was incredible. It was decorated and you could tell a great deal of preparation was made for our arrival. All the children lined up outside and greeted us with a huge, “Namaste!”
Jayeshbhai Patel, one of the Manav Sadhna founders, gave me an unexpectedly powerful and enthusiastic introduction. He began by comparing the root of my name, Christopher, to Christ and Krishna, saying that they are related and that I was like Krishna because he believes I am, “A man of love.”
He then dubbed me Krishnabhai and asked everybody, “Are you going to be friends with Krishnabhai?” “Are you going to welcome Krishnabhai?” To which the crowd responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
Jayeshbhai was very effective in creating an initial layer of trust here, as it was a bit of a shock for the community to hear that a foreigner was moving in for the year (and ironic in a way, considering most people run the other way from this community!).
Then I took the mic for a few moments and tried to explain who I am and what I would be doing. It didn’t go so well but I managed to get out that I was looking forward to getting to know everybody and that it was clear why they call it the "Loving Community"—people seemed surprisingly warm and welcoming.
After this program finished, Jayeshbhai grabbed me and said we were going to go door-to-door to meet everybody we could.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d never done anything like this before. Really? Meet every single person? Isn’t that going to take a long time?
So we started going to each home, with Jayeshbhai each time introducing me, saying something to the effect of, “Meet Krishnabhai, he’s going to be coming here to do seva (service).”
Time felt like it stood still. I’ve never met and embraced so many people in one go before. It was fun. Uplifting. And kind of surreal.
A few really sweet things happened along the way. Several people I met gave me blessings. One said that her house was the place to have lunch when I needed it, another older lady said that if I needed love to see her, and another said to come by whenever I wanted chai (tea). Such a welcome!
I felt honored that Jayeshbhai dedicated so much personal time with me like this, and his remarkable ability to create instantaneous connections with people is truly inspiring.
Ready for the journey
We stopped by one home and inside there was a young boy, maybe six or seven years old, who was lying on the floor having a difficult time breathing, it seemed like he had asthma.
He was rail thin, not moving, and his faced was covered up with netting to keep a swarm of flies from bothering him. Jayeshbhai, without missing a beat, said to the boy while pointing at me, “This is your angel. Do you see him? This is your angel.”
I didn’t want to leave. He was in such a state of need.
I found out later that this boy is paralyzed from the neck down due to Cerebral Palsy.
I wondered, How could he not have a bed? How could he be so skinny?
I intend to return to the community soon, before moving in, and visit with the family to get more detail on the situation, and perhaps arrange for some treatment time.
Here we go. :)
Continue to the next update about my work at the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh.